Katharine Jackson, Legal Research Librarian at Oxford University, and Natasha Choolhun, Library Co-ordinator at the College of Law discuss working as Legal information professionals (LIPs).
You may not be aware of it, but legal information professionals will be supporting you from the very first day you step into law school, through your qualification and way beyond. If you have ever considered joining this unique field, this article provides you with the necessary information to begin a career in legal information.
What is a LIP and what do they do?
‘Legal information professional’ is an umbrella term to cover a wide range of roles that have developed as the profession has evolved. You are probably familiar with law librarians or legal information officers but there is more to the profession beyond the person you see staffing the law library enquiry desk and a LIP deals with more than just books and knowing legal databases such as Westlaw and Lawtel inside out. As technology in legal information has developed, the role has begun to overlap with the other sectors. For example, in commercial firms, LIP roles can include ‘Knowledge Managers’ who work with practice support lawyers to manage internal know-how. In other roles, the responsibility of the content and even the design of web pages and intranet sites lies with the LIP.
So generally speaking no two LIP jobs are the same, as duties very much depend on the employer, but key duties are commonly; legal research using online and printed resources, managing resources and training users. Listed below are where LIPs are employed:
- Academic institutions: Universities which run law courses will have a law subject specialist
- Professional institutions: Such as the Law Society or Inns of Court
- Law firms: Will generally have a library and information department
- Industry and commerce
- National and Local Government: Including Government departments
- Freelancers and Consultants: Normally are self-employed and often working part-time on information related projects.
How much legal knowledge does a LIP need?
The key criteria to train as a LIP, is a recognised qualification in information or library studies rather than a law degree. Such courses often require a year’s library experience. The LIP profiles below give an idea of the skills needed to be a LIP and how your career can progress.
How did you end up working as a LIP?
Katharine (law degree): Part way through my law degree I realised that I did not want to be a solicitor but I really liked the subject. After graduating I saw a job in one of the Inns of Court Libraries. The job looked really interesting and so I went for it and ended up staying there for 5 years. Working with people who were so knowledgeable inspired me to get my library qualification. I went on from there to the commercial sector which was very different but very interesting and worked for law firms for 7 years. I really liked the training aspect and so when my current role in an academic library came up I jumped at the chance.
Natasha (non-law degree): After my degree, I worked as a Library assistant whilst studying for the professional library qualification part time. My first job in the legal sector was a temporary post as I wanted to learn more about the legal environment. I had heard that lawyers did not make easy co-workers and wanted to find out if this was true. I was happy to learn that the rumours were not true and applied for a permanent post with a law firm. After being made redundant from the commercial sector in 2009, I moved into the academic sector.
What do you like about being a LIP?
Katharine: That you will spend most of your time helping and dealing with different sorts of people. But another thing is the variety of tasks and responsibilities. I can be building a web page in the morning and teaching students how to research for a moot problem in the afternoon.
Natasha: That it’s a ‘people’ job, you need to have a good relationship with your users (students or lawyers) to do a good job.
What does it take to be a LIP?
Katharine: Having a law degree does help but is not essential. Legal information is very specialised and if you already know about different types of information and how to find the basics then it helps. It also helps when you already have knowledge of legal terms and concepts. If you go for a role that involves training (which a lot of roles do to some extent) then you need to be confident in what you are teaching. You also need to be on the ball with the latest technology – you may end up having to design web pages, build basic databases or set up RSS feeds.
Natasha: I don’t have a law degree and a law degree is not necessary, but to keep up with the terminology and subject, you do need a good grasp of current affairs. You can’t escape technology in this job, so good IT skills are essential. Also, don’t think it’s a role for shy people who like wearing cardigans. Training is a key part of the role, so confidence is a must. As you go up the career ladder, people skills become very important, such as communication, as well as financial know how, managing budgets and so on.
Let’s talk money, how much can a LIP earn?
As with most sectors, salaries are dependent on experience. Whilst you are qualifying the average salary is 20k. Salaries increase post qualification, with the average salary at 22k for a first professional role. After 5 years the average salary rises to 32k. KM managers can earn up to 43k whilst directors of Legal information services are earning up to 60k.
BIALL is an independent and self-supporting body which represents the interests of those working in legal information provision in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. BIALL has over 750 members, both personal and institutional.
For more information on qualifying as a LIP please see the BIALL website.